1980's Flashback Cinema

Lock Up (1989): #Watch1989

Lock Up original film art

Lock Up (1989)

Your body has to be here, but your mind can be anywhere.

As I watched my latest 1989 film, Lock Up, I began contemplating the future of the #Watch1989 enterprise. According to the original tenants of the program, my 1989 movie marathon would conclude on December 31st, 2019. At that time, however, I anticipated having felt some sense of closure. I’d have watched a few dozen movies from 1989, discovered some gems along the way and completed a handful of chapters (all of them?) in the manuscript about the Summer of 1989. Alas, reality has clubbed me upside the head as I’ve taken stock of my year of #Watch1989.

I’ve watched around 65 movies from that great year. But there’s so many left to watch. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve discovered some gems, but I also still have a bunch on my “must-watch” list that just haven’t been handled. I still haven’t seen My Left Foot, for example, and that’s a problem. Don’t talk about the manuscript. I got a new freelance job a few months ago and I’ve been struggling to make time with my own writing. So I went ahead and devoted a sleepless evening hyped up on non-drowsy antihistamines to watch Sylvester Stallone’s Lock Up (1989) which had just arrived from Netflix DVD.

Maybe I don’t need to put an expiration date on this, after all…

Netflix DVD Lock Up
Netflix DVD, those fine distributors of physical media, came through with a copy of LOCK UP, delivered to my door.

A Sylvester Stallone movie from the 1980s that I hadn’t seen? I suspect foul play based on reputation. Indeed, I’d never bothered with Lock Up due to it’s less than stellar reputation. And by less than stellar, I mean steaming pile of prison-cell fungus. That said, I’m still surprised I’d somehow sidestepped the movie entirely considering I watched everything indiscriminately during the late 1980’s.

While Lock Up plays like a stripped down Escape Plan (2013) prequel, it has the distinct benefit of featuring Stallone without a shred of self-awareness and a nefarious prison warden played by Donald Sutherland. Both hit all the predictable, necessary, and occasionally delicious 1980’s cinema beats. The result is a film that adheres to an outdated model of filmmaking, the delusional B-movie that masquerades as top-flight entertainment. We love the 1980s and the 1980s loves us back with entertaining mid-budget refuse like this.

Sylvester Stallone Lock Up
Sylvester Stallone confronts the bully (Sonny Landham) trying to take his lunch money in Lock Up (1989).

Shackle Your Disbelief

If we are to go along with Lock Up‘s absurd premise, we have to accept a series of absurd events that take place even before the events of this film. Sylvester Stallone’s Frank retaliated against a bunch of goons that beat the owner of the body shop in which he worked. That he was then incarcerated for a very long time and eventually escaped said prison because the warden (Donald Sutherland) committed unspeakable acts against his inmates. Instead of being fired, the warden gets reassigned to a hellhole maximum security prison where his further misdeeds can go even more unnoticed. The warden also exists in a prison system that would then somehow permit the transfer of the prisoner (from a minimum security facility) back into his custody.

I understand that our penal system is a shit show, (I read the New York Times and am therefore m’f’ing informed), but even this stretches the limits of the imagination.

Donald Sutherland Lock Up
Donald Sutherland as Lock Up’s evil Warden Drumgoole.

Warden Drumgoole launches an initiative to break Frank and cause him to do something that would result in his life imprisonment at his maximum security hellhole. He employs inmates to bully, intimidate, bait and torture Frank. He throws him in solitary whenever possible. I won’t reveal the straw that finally breaks Frank’s back, but it’s absolutely despicable. The lengths to which Drumgoole will go, give the film its only sense of surprise. Let’s face it. We know Frank’s going to get out. We know that somehow Sylvester Stallone is going to mug and grunt his way to freedom. The twist comes during the final act when you think just maaaaaybeeeee the Warden’s finally snared the fly in his web — and yet Sly evades him yet again. How he manages to escape an unwinnable scenario might also require some more suspension of disbelief (if you haven’t already exhausted it).

And you might shed a tear at what they do to a newly refurbished classic mustang.

Sylvester Stallone
Frank (Sylvester Stallone) picked the wrong day to quit knocking heads.

Lock Up Verdict

The director, John Flynn, made a name for himself making gritty 1970’s neo-noir like The Outfit (1973) and Rolling Thunder (1977). After a slow period to begin the 80’s, he wound up directing Lock Up and Out for Justice, a far cry from the kind of freedom he had been afforded.

Despite the intermittently laughable melodrama that speckles the Lock Up landscape, the movie finds it limited range and delivers a watchable exercise in “giving the bad guy what’s coming to him.” Stallone suffers constant physical and emotional torture — some of it rather undigestible and viscerally unnerving.

The supporting cast gives more than the movie’s worth — the cast of familiars like Tom Sizemore, Frank McRae and John Amos carry some of sly’s Sly acting burden. Oddly, when Stallone faces off against Donald Sutherland, their give and take styles (constant overt vs. underperformed rage) fit together like puzzle piece that someone mashed into place. It doesn’t work, but it kinda does if you don’t look too close — much like the entire movie.

If you’re the kind of person that enjoys Sylvester Stallone vanity projects for all the wrong reasons, you’ll definitely have some fun with Lock Up.

Check out some past #Watch1989 write-ups: Sea of Love / Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure / The Experts

Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone strikes a statuesque pose in Lock Up (1989)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. He hosts the Cinema Shame and #Bond_age_Pod podcasts. Follow his blog at and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: I earn rewards from, which has thousands of movies to choose from, many that you won’t find on streaming services. I do this because the availability of physical media is important. The popular streaming notion of “everything available all the time” is a myth. We are always our own best curators. #PhysicalMedia #DVDNation #ad

Cinema Cinema Shame

Rambo: First Blood Part II: Cinema Shame

I’m constantly a step behind my own Cinema Shame prompts. I see no reason to start now as I watched Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) for the July summer blockbuster Shame prompt. I scanned numerous lists of the biggest and best “summer blockbusters” and I came away with one movie — the only movie on any of the “best of” lists I’d not seen. First Blood Part II shot to the top of my Netflix queue. (Yes. I still rent physical media.)

first blood part II

I attribute the non-watch to the proliferation of Rambo parody. Beyond First Blood, the reputation for John Rambo’s exploits have become infamous. I’m a fan of the first. I’ve seen Hot Shots Part Deux and the UHF Rampo sketch. What more would I need to know about First Blood Part II than Weird Al’s fakey pectorals?

Nothing. Not a damn thing.

The parodies of Rambo: First Blood Part II don’t expend any creative energy in elevating the original film into the realm of spoof. It’s all right there in glorious, over-the-top 1985 action spectacle and mindless explosions. Did I mention mindless explosions? Because you’ve never seen explosions quite this mindless.

Let’s go to the tape. Get it? Mindless?

If you didn’t know any better, *that’s* the parody. Obviously.

Rambo: First Blood Part II offers nothing even resembling the gravitas of the original First Blood, which has a purpose and reason for existing. It highlights the disillusionment and perverse treatment of our returning Vietnam veterans while providing a few action/thriller beats.

Of course, Part II still treats us to gripping Stallone monologues about being unwanted at home, about being one of “the expendables.” (SPOILER ALERT FOR FUTURE MOVIE FRANCHISE.) That’s just lip service lending a sliver of credibility to the impossible one-man cinematic demolition crew that is Rambo. Richard Crenna also returns as the inconsequential voice of reason, but nobody ever listens to him.

first blood part II
Rambo not listening to Richard Crenna’s Trautman.

The First Blood Part II Mission

In order to justify the extreme violence you’ve got to motivate your unhinged protagonist by giving them targets of the most inarguably egregious personage. This time Rambo journeys to Vietnam to find potential POWs. He’s plucked from a prison camp to do one last job for his country.

Not only does he get to extract vengeance against the Vietcong, but also the Russians (!) because they’re propping up the communist regime with weapons and masochism and then they kill his new Vietnamese girlfriend/contact (they had such a quaint meet-cute) as they’re trying to escape. OH NO THEY DIDN’T.

It’s like the 1970’s and 1980’s got together and manufactured the most despicable enemy imaginable (and cast the reliable Steven Berkoff as the main baddie). Rambo’s not done, however, because it turns out his own country sent him there to  corroborate the politically convenient story that they’re not leaving hundreds of POWs behind enemy lines. (Of course they are.)

And we all know what Rambo gets like when he’s angry.

The First Blood Part II Stupidity

The absurdity doesn’t stop with the action on screen, however. Everything about this movie skews absurd. Vietnam is apparently only the size of a couple of city blocks because Rambo just keeps bumping into everyone he knows ALL THE TIME. I’m also quite fond of this observation written by Vincent Canby in the New York Times:

Rambo, as personified by Mr. Stallone, isn’t a man who needs the love of others. He loves himself quite enough. There’s also the comforting presence of the camera, which behaves like someone obsessed. It caresses Mr. Stallone’s face and body with an abandon not seen on the screen since Josef von Sternberg made movies with Marlene Dietrich.

Rewatch First Blood Part II with the von Sternberg/Dietrich comparison in mind. You’re taken to entirely transcendent levels of cinema. The notion that Stallone was responsible for filming himself a la the way Josef von Sternberg fetishized Marlene Dietrich will make your brain melt. (The directorial credit goes to George P. Cosmatos, but come on, folks, we all know he’s just a puppet regime.)

The screenplay by Stallone and James Cameron can’t be bothered with subtleties when there’s more communists around to make puddles of goo. Let me give you a sample of this entirely scripted dialogue. Rambo and his guide Co are on a boat headed back from the “non-existent” POW camp with a wounded POW in tow to share on show and tell day back at the base. One thing leads to another and the boat explodes. Rambo swims to shore and Co says, “Rambo, you made it!”

Let me be clear, it’s not like Rambo just popped up and surprised her on shore. She watched him swim from the boat to the shore, a good fifteen seconds of observing, only to exclaim, with much enthusiasm, that Rambo had indeed “made it!”

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. First Blood Part II is incredibly stupid, but stupid in a way that recalls B-movies with production budgets (and talent) much lesser than their aspirations. And it’s certainly not that Stallone had any mind towards making a parody of the original. Don’t think for a second this has any of the self-awareness Joe Dante used when he brilliantly parodied Gremlins with Gremlins 2.

Stallone plays First Blood Part II 100% straight. Therein lies the blunt-force beauty of this almost tone-deaf orgy of explosions and insensitivity. Gleefully preposterous and mindlessly entertaining. I hated it and I couldn’t help but be entertained. I’ll let you reconcile whatever happened in between.

(Bold/linked denotes watched)

Five Easy Pieces
Stop Making Sense
The Black Pirate
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Paris, Texas
Wuthering Heights
Paper Moon
The Conversation
Once Upon a Time in the West
Heaven Can Wait

Cinema Shame Monthly Prompts:

January Prompt: Shame Statement
February Prompt: An American In Paris
March Prompt: The Crimson Pirate
April Prompt: Once Upon a Time in the West / Heaven Can Wait
May Prompt: Shame Swap
June Prompt: Musicals! 
July Prompt: Summer Blockbusters
August Prompt: Ebert Brings the Love/Hate

James David Patrick is a writer. He written just about everything at some point or another. Lately it’s been all about movies. Follow his blog at and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: I earn rewards from, which has thousands of movies to choose from, many that you won’t find on streaming services. I do this because having physical media is important. The notion of “everything available all the time” with streaming is a myth. We are our own best curators. #PhysicalMedia #DVDNation #ad